"He drives you nuts," says Bob. "There's got to be a plan for the simplest thing."
Brad even had a plan ready when the family business went under. He had driven a full season in the truck series in 2005, and after Petra Stone, a North Carolina--based masonry company, reneged on its sponsorship deal with K-Automotive at the end of the season, Brad hit the road, working as a spotter in the truck series and picking up occasional rides. (Petra Stone did not fulfill its contract to pay K-Automotive $4 million, forcing Bob to sell his race shop and all of his equipment. The family filed suit and won an $11.8 million judgment in 2006, but it has yet to collect a penny.) Brad began making his own luck, racing well enough to pick up rides in the Nationwide Series.
"He was in cars that weren't qualified to run where he was running them," says Tony Eury Sr., Brad's crew chief at JR Motorsports. "He has a lot of car control. You don't learn that. It's just born in you."
Keselowski's skills finally attracted wide attention in a truck race at Memphis in June 2007. Replacing suspended driver Ted Musgrave, Keselowski put the Team ASE Toyota on the pole and led 62 of the 200 laps. But nine laps from the finish, Cup regular Travis Kvapil spun him out and stole the win; Keselowski finished 16th, but won the admiration of many observers, including Earnhardt, who said he felt sorry for the young driver. "I got more press out of that race than if I'd won it," Keselowski says.
Earnhardt—who'd first met Keselowski while playing video racing games over the Internet—was impressed with his effort in Memphis and offered him the seat in his Nationwide car. It was the break of a lifetime for Keselowski. By picking up the ride with JR Motorsports he also came under the watchful eye of team co-owner Rick Hendrick, whose Cup operation is the class of the series. Keselowski raced so well so quickly on the Nationwide circuit that Hendrick ran him in two Cup races last fall—at one point referring to Brad as "the future of our company"—and mapped out a seven-race schedule for this season.
As recently as two months ago Keselowski believed that he was being groomed to take over 50-year-old Mark Martin's ride in the number 5 Chevy at Hendrick Motorsports, beginning with 10 races in 2010. But on May 6, Hendrick announced that Martin would run a full schedule next season. Where does that leave Keselowski? Hendrick has said that he will meet with the driver soon to discuss plans for 2010. Among the possible scenarios are that Keselowski will drive a Cup car for a Hendrick-affiliated operation such as Stewart-Haas Racing, or that JR Motorsports will launch a Cup team for him.
For his part, Keselowski, who on Sunday finished sixth in the Cup race at New Hampshire, says that "progress is being made" with Hendrick. "When there's no longer progress being made, I'll look for opportunities elsewhere."
Even Kay doesn't know what her son is planning. "But I can guarantee that whatever decision he makes will be the right one," she says. "Brad won't make a bad decision. He never has."
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